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SF Mayor London Breed Reverses Course on Proposed Sober Living Site After Community Pushback

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The exterior signage of the North Beach Hotel.
Mayor London Breed walked back plans to open the permanent supportive housing site at Hotel North Beach, 935 Kearny St., just days after first announcing the idea. (Sydney Johnson/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed walked back plans Tuesday to open a sober living permanent supportive housing site near Chinatown, less than two weeks after first announcing the idea.

“After meeting with many community members, we have decided to pursue an alternative location for the Sober Living project that had been proposed at the North Beach Hotel,” Breed said through a spokesperson, in an email to KQED. “It became clear from my conversations with many in the area that this support was not there.”

The mayor on Feb. 8 announced that the city intended to open 149 units at the hotel, wedged between North Beach and Chinatown, to people recovering from addiction, a move advocates said would provide relief to those seeking a drug- and alcohol-free living environment.

Although San Francisco offers multiple housing programs for people recovering from drug addiction, most of the residential sites are only for temporary, limited stays. The facility Breed proposed would have offered permanent residency, while also providing social services, with case managers on site to help prevent or respond to relapses.

But when Breed, who faces a challenging reelection bid this year,  publicly announced the project earlier this month, she was interrupted by a handful of local business owners who criticized her for not including them in planning conversations about it. One nearby restaurant owner said that the new facility could damage the neighborhood’s character.

On Feb. 15, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association wrote a formal letter of opposition to the project.

“Many members of the Chinatown community felt that there was a glaring absence of proactive outreach and engagement prior to this proposal being brought forward,” the letter reads. “We understand that all neighbors must work on this issue, and we are willing to do our part. However, we have deep concerns regarding the proposed site and believe there are alternatives that may be more suitable.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the the project have also accused the city of circumventing fair housing laws that prevent local governments from only offering public housing to applicants who are sober, as such restrictions could discriminate against people in recovery and make it even harder for them to access shelter.

The city has yet to finalize its purchase of the building, and had previously planned to conduct community outreach meetings in the coming weeks.

City officials said they would continue to pursue sober housing options at a new site.

“We think it’s absolutely critical that we continue to expand and diversify the types of housing we offer, especially to people committed to their sobriety,” said Emily Cohen, deputy director for communications and legislative affairs at the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

In announcing the change of plan, Breed said she is still “firmly committed to establishing this new sober housing program at another location” and that the city needs to “establish different paths for people who need support, and sober housing absolutely will be a part of our strategy here in San Francisco.”

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